Distributed cognition in home environments : The prospective memory and cognitive practices of older adults

Dissertation, Linköping University (2016)

In this thesis I explore how older people make use of, and interact with, their physical environment in home and near-by settings to manage cognitive situations, specifically prospective memory situations. Older adults have in past research been shown to perform better on prospective memory in real-life settings than what findings in laboratory-like settings predict. An explanation for this paradox is that older adults has a more developed skill of using the environment for prospective memory than younger adults. However, research investigating this explanation has primarily been based on self-reports. I contribute to the understanding of this skill by doing two related things. First I introduce distributed cognition, a theoretical perspective that primarily has been used within professional and socio-technical environments, to the research field of prospective memory in everyday life. Second I present a cognitive ethnography conducted during two years across eight home, and near-by, environments and old-age retired persons, for which I have used theoretical concepts from distributed cognition to analyze observations. The analysis shows rich variations in how participants use common cultural cognitive tools, invent their own cognitive tools, deliberately and incidentally shape more or less functional spaces, make use of other physical features, orient themselves toward and make sense of cognitive resources. I complement both prospective memory and distributed cognition research by describing both the intelligent shaping and use of space. Furthermore, by taking a distributed cognitive perspective I show that prospective memory processes in home environments involve properties, and the management, of a multipurpose environment. Altogether this supports the understanding of distributed cognition as a perspective on all cognition. Distributed cognition is not a reflection of particular work practices, instead it is a formulation of the general features of human cognition. Prospective memory in everyday life can be understood as an ability persons have. However, in this thesis I show that prospective memory can also be understood as a process that takes place between persons, arrangements of space, and tools.
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The Extended Mind.Andy Clark & David J. Chalmers - 1998 - Analysis 58 (1):7-19.

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